Grazyna Bacewicz
Poland, °1909 - 1969
COMPOSITION 1965B : Second Prize
Grazyna Bacewicz had received hear earliest musical training from her father; she started learning violin, piano and theory when she was five years old. Her other older brother, Kiejstut, became a pianist and frequently accompanied her in performances. The youngest sister, Wanda, is a poet who serves as family historian and the guardian of Grażyna's memory. A child prodigy, Grażyna gave her first concert at age of seven (with her brothers); she composed her first piece, Preludes for Piano, at the age of thirteen. The next phase in her education consisted of attending the Warsaw Conservatory of Music (initially studying violin and piano). In 1928, she began studies of philosophy at the University of Warsaw (she completed a year and a half). She continued her music training at the Conservatory, studying composition with Kazimierz Sikorski, violin with Józef Jarzębski and piano with Jan Turczyński; she graduated summa cum laude in 1932.

Karol Szymanowski, who was a professor of the Warsaw Conservatoire, advised all young composition students to go to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger and Bacewicz joined this group of Poles in the 1930s. She studied composition with Boulanger, and violin with André Touret and Carl Flesch. At that time she adopted the neoclassical style for her compositional language; she became the first Polish woman composer to achieve national and international stature. After the completion of her studies she proceeded to participate in countless concerts and festivals as performer, composer and jury member. In the 1930s she was the principal violinist for the Polish Radio Orchestra, organized by the famous conductor, Grzegorz Fitelberg; her repertoire included solo parts in the Szymanowski Violin Concerti. This orchestra gave her a chance of hearing her own music, including Violin Concerto no.1 and Three Songs for tenor and orchestra. During the war, she lived in Warsaw, continuing to compose and giving underground concerts (e.g. premiering her Suite for Two Violins).

After the war, she returned to work as a professor in the State Conservatory of Music in Lodz. During the Stalinist period from 1945 to 1955, Bacewicz - like all other composers - was subject to an increasing ideological control of the new, socialist government. Initially, she still continued to travel and perform abroad: she visited Paris for the fifth time, giving a concert at the École Normale de Musique. It is around that time that she decided to end her involvement with music as a performer and switch to composing as a sole occupation.

It is important to note that Grazyna Bacewicz was also an excellent pianist. She premiered and often performed her Sonata No. 2 for piano (1953). This sonata is available in a recording by Nancy Fierro, a dedicated promoter of music by women composers (on her Riches and Rags CD, available from the International Alliance for Women in Music. Another, wonderful recording by Krystian Zimerman has been issued by Olympia (OCD 392). The fact that this Sonata was composed at the height of Stalinist repressions in Poland, is yet another proof that political circumstances do not necessarily bear a negative influence on the quality of the music. The final movement of the sonata juxtaposes a neo-Baroque toccata, with its lively "moto perpetuo" rhythms, with a Polish folk-dance, a vivacious oberek.

Grazyna Bacewicz's compositional career became her primary preoccupation after 1954 - when she suffered serious injuries in a car accident. She was led in this direction by a string of compositional awards and commissions, recognizing the value of her music (about which she was highly critical herself). When she was 39 years old, she received an honorable mention at the International Olympic Games Art Contest in London for her Olympic Games Cantata. She was also awarded the second prize at the Chopin Contest for Composers, two more prizes at the Second Contest, the music award of the City of Warsaw for her work as a composer, virtuoso, organizer and teacher. In 1950, her Concerto for String Orchestra received the National Prize and was performed by the National Symphony Orchestra in the United States.

Her series of awards continued: she won the first prize for her String Quartet no.4 at the International Contest for Composers, Liège, 1951. In 1955, she received awards at the Polish Composer's Union Contest, and prizes from the Minister of Culture and Art for her Symphony no.4, Violin Concerto no.3 and String Quartet no.3. At the end of 1958, she completed her final, and, perhaps, the greatest neoclassical composition, Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion, which was performed at the Warsaw Autumn of 1959. This piece received the first prize in the orchestral division and third prize overall at UNESCO's International Rostrum of Composers in the same year (1960).

Since 1956, when the political "thaw" allowed changes in musical life and a greater interaction with the West, the compositional scene in Poland was transformed by the arrival of the newest "avant-garde" techniques and fashions. The first International Festival of Contemporary Music Warsaw Autumn took place in 1956. Three works by Grazyna Bacewicz were performed at this festival: String Quartet no.4, Concerto for String Orchestra and the Overture. The Violin Concerto no. 7 was awarded a prize of the Belgian Government and Second Prize at the 1965 Queen Elisabeth Competition for Composers.

Grazyna Bacewicz was one of the founders of the Warsaw Autumn Festival. She became the first woman vice-president of the Union of Polish Composers (since 1960) and a professor of composition at the Warsaw PWSM (since 1966). She served as Jury member at the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition in 1953, Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958, the Competition in Naples in 1967, International Quartet Competition in Budapest in 1968, as well as the Chair of the jury at Wieniawski International Violin Competitions in 1957 and in 1967.
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